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Mr. Arbuthnot: It was not the inclusion of a contingency that caused us concern, but the inclusion of a contingency without full supporting detail.

Mr. Ingram: I have explained some of the rationale behind that. The report recognises that some things might not be played out publicly because of such good reasons as operational considerations. It is not wise to state everything that we are doing to improve our equipment and capability in response to a specific threat. The scale of the £146 million contingency has been referred to, and I have already given an indication about the £100 million aspect of the budget. It would be difficult to give full granularity because although one can put forward a contingency, what is wanted might not materialise. Of course, if the money is not spent, the financial resource is not delivered. Over time, as specific urgent operational requirements have arisen, we have, when there has been no operational sensitivity, indicated what the requirements involve.

Recommendation 2 claims that the MOD did not take the previous Defence Committee recommendations seriously: I do not accept that. We have produced significantly more information this year than in any
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previous year in the estimates memorandum. The new information includes the inclusion of tables of figures that break down the detail of each request for resource; detail of transfers to and from other Departments; a detailed breakdown of provisions and, importantly, a published audit trail of changes since the main estimates. There is much more explanation and clarity than in previous years, but we have to seek to go further still and we will reflect on the points that have been made in the report.

We are planning to provide more detailed information on the cost of operations in our annual report and accounts, which is the appropriate place to do so. That information will be comparable to the level of detail we have recently provided to the Committee, and I hope that that finds favour with the House.

The fourth conclusion and recommendation made by the Committee was that agreement of the Treasury is not a substitute for parliamentary approval. I could not agree more and I am sure that the Treasury would also agree. But we would hardly seek Parliament's approval to spend money without having closely consulted the Treasury in advance. I have been closely involved in such matters for several years, with the MOD and a previous Department and I know that the Treasury has a very important role to play in the tight scrutiny of departmental requests.

The reality is that we have to convince the Treasury before embarking on any significant course of action. That is part of the discipline within government. We have to justify our accounting processes, and ensure that they are sound. They must form part of the Government's mission and we must ensure that we have sufficient resources to achieve that mission. The process of consultation with the Treasury is a very important element of the work of all Departments. Indeed, I do not think that the Committee is arguing against such scrutiny by the Treasury. We have provided more information to Parliament this year than we have done before, and where we can, we will seek to improve further.

The Committee recommends that our practice of waiting for the spring supplementary estimates to request funds for commenced operations should cease and recommends that they are requested in the main estimates. It has been the practice that that request has been made in the supplementary estimates. That has been the traditional approach because costs are difficult to forecast in fast moving operational circumstances. My Department works hard to ensure that the figures presented to Parliament are reliable, and supplementary estimates are the first occasion on which we can reach a reasonably firm conclusion. However, we will look closely at the Committee's recommendation in consultation with the Treasury.

On recommendation 6, the Government have never routinely published operations expenditure data in-year, as the Committee requests. We provide an estimate based on the forecast of the cost of operations in the supplementary estimates. At the end of each year, the actual expenditure is audited by the National Audit Office, and then published in the annual report and accounts. As I have already said, we will be publishing more detail in this year's accounts. We are trying to obtain the best information and ensure its substance so that we can be properly judged, instead of providing the working figures for the MOD and the Treasury.
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Recommendation 7 relates to the provision for operations in the Balkans in the main estimates. That is £64 million for the current financial year. Provision for operations in the Balkans comes from what is known as the global conflict prevention pool. Pool funding ensures that no single Department becomes liable for those costs. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has always been the lead Department for administering the funds, and requests funding in its estimates on behalf of all the pool members. We make a contribution to the discussion on the collective amount that should be sought. We will consult the other Departments involved on the impact that making the recommended change would have on the long-established collective conflict prevention management arrangements, but I believe that the system we have works well. I am prepared to consider the point, but the current arrangements are clear. If we could do it another way, and the other Departments agree, we will come back to that issue.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Ingram: Well, I wish to make some progress now. I may get the chance later to allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene.

Let me turn to the costs of Afghanistan and recommendation 8. On 26 January, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced that some £1 billion would be spent on Afghanistan, which includes the £220 million being requested in this estimate. A breakdown of that was provided to the Committee at its request, the major elements of which are £121 million on infrastructure, stock equipment and the support items needed by our troops to carry out their daily duties, and £53 million on capital equipment relating to force protection. Those are the headline items, but the list also includes £150 million for resource expenditure and £70 million for capital expenditure. Resource costs include manpower-related costs of £8 million pounds, infrastructure costs of £26 million, equipment support of £15 million, stock consumption of £34 million, general costs—including food, fuel and movement costs—of £46 million and a contingency of £14 million to cover uncertainties over the planned expansion programme.

The major elements of capital costs are the urgent operational requirement and equipment support costs of £53 million and a contingency of £17 million. Costs for future years are more difficult to forecast and the Department works hard to ensure that the figures presented to Parliament are reliable. It must be our main purpose to provide reliable data—not working figures—so that we can be held to account effectively. Supplementary estimates are the first occasion on which the Department can reach a reasonably firm conclusion. I spent 10 years in opposition—

Dr. Julian Lewis: Tough!

Mr. Ingram: Well, the hon. Gentleman had better get used to tough times. I would have thought that the Committee and Parliament would have preferred hard figures rather than notional ones, on which to base their assessments.
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My final point on the Committee's report is that the MOD has this year followed the scrutiny unit's guidance in producing the estimates memorandums. They were approved by Ministers and the accounting officer before being passed to the Committee. I understand that the document was not signed off, but that does not mean that it was not properly authorised. Paragraph 19 of the report makes a number of assertions that I believe are not based on fact. The Department's estimates memorandums included details on the summary of changes since the previous estimate, the most significant changes, a detailed explanation of the changes, the net additional cash required and the provisions and contingent liabilities.

On the point about end-of-year flexibility made in recommendation 9, my Department drew down end-of-year flexibility of £71.7 million in resource departmental expenditure limits—DEL—and £28.3 million in capital DEL in the winter supplementary estimates, and those figures have not changed. I have gone through some of the detailed changes and I will consider the recommendations to see whether we can proceed in other ways. Probably only two or three people who have participated in the debate have read the report through, although others will claim that that is not the case, and I have tried to answer the detailed points made.

I come now to some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Havard). He was clear in his support for our people in Iraq and Afghanistan. He raised several equipment-related issues and the threat posed to our personnel as a consequence. The balance of risk is always factored in, in terms of force lay down. I appreciate that my hon. Friend has occasionally worn uniform when taking part in the armed forces parliamentary scheme, but on this occasion I shall stick with the advice given to me and the Secretary of State by our senior military planners and the Chiefs of Staff. However, I thank my hon. Friend for his support.

I made notes while the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) was speaking, but his hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) quietly laid to rest some of the basis on which the right hon. and learned Gentleman advanced his cause. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that there was no international legitimacy for going to war in Iraq, but he ignores the 17 resolutions that sought to bring Saddam Hussein to book. I think that he ignores the fact that every major country was of the view that Saddam Hussein had the capacity and the intention to develop weapons of mass destruction; not one country, or their intelligence services, took a different view.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also ignores United Nations Security Council resolution 1441, which was unanimously adopted and clearly indicated that there would be consequences for non-compliance. I think he was arguing that members of the UN should have a veto on the course of action that we and other countries should take, but that is a dangerous approach, which would mean that we were constrained by the geo-political interests of our allies—those interests, rather than those we consider important, would be uppermost.

I could not work out the logic of the position taken by the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Holloway). Was he saying that we should not encourage or help the
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Government of Afghanistan in their aim of reducing poppy cultivation? Clearly, we should do so, but the hon. Gentleman offered no solution to the problem. I have set out the amount we are spending on alternative livelihoods and we know that the Afghans are putting in significant effort. There are risks but we have to continue. The hon. Gentleman offered no alternative approach.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) said that it was a mistake to ignore calls for a broader coalition to deal with Saddam Hussein. However, the coalition of the willing was 32 countries-strong at the outset and increased shortly thereafter. There was a broad coalition for taking on Saddam Hussein; not every nation allied itself to it, but there was a significant combination of countries. The hon. Gentleman said that it was right to deal with Saddam Hussein, so in that case what more could have been done than our Prime Minister did? He made extreme efforts to try to ensure that there was unanimous support in the Security Council, but it was not forthcoming. As I pointed out to the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea, there were 17 UN Security Council resolutions over 12 years, and UNSCR 1441 was specific in its analysis of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's regime.

The hon. Gentleman called for the managed partition of Iraq, which is territory we have covered before. He alluded to a previous debate in which a similar solution had been proposed for Afghanistan. He recovered himself a bit by saying that it was for the people in those countries to come to that conclusion, but he seemed to be indicating that, in the case of Iraq, we should encourage them to do so. I do not believe that it would be beneficial to fragment Iraq at this juncture, although at some point in the future it may be. As I commented recently when giving evidence to the Select Committee, we are still a United Kingdom, but the people of the country's constituent parts can determine their future—whether in Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland. It is a matter for the people to decide.

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